Houston covered up abuse amid culture of silence: Crown

Brian Houston won't be paid costs after his acquittal on a charge of concealing his father's abuse.

Brian Houston won't be paid costs after his acquittal on a charge of concealing his father's abuse. Photo: AAP

A culture of silence focused on protecting the church motivated Hillsong founder Brian Houston not to tell police about reports his disgraced pastor father was a pedophile, prosecutors say.

The same culture allowed Houston to place himself as “the only conduit of information” between the national executive of the Assemblies of God churches and the man his father abused.

An “entrenched reverence” towards Frank Houston, a founding father of the Pentecostal church movement, also fostered protection of high-ranking church figures and enforced the culture of silence, crown prosecutor Gareth Harrison said on Thursday.

“It was in this setting … the accused knew he could control the narrative and protect the church and his father,” Mr Harrison said in closing submissions to the NSW District Court judge-alone trial before Judge Gareth Christofi.

Houston, 69, has pleaded not guilty to concealing his father’s crimes, arguing the person his father admitted to abusing, Brett Sengstock, did not want an investigation, and was an adult who could have reported it to police by the time Houston found out.

It is not disputed Frank Houston abused Mr Sengstock as a boy in January 1970, but whether his son failed to alert authorities without a reasonable excuse.

Houston confronted his father about the abuse in late 1999 and he confessed before he died in 2004.

Houston told the national executive about the admission and his father was defrocked, but the trial has heard he continued to lead sermons until weeks before his death.

Mr Harrison said Houston revealed the admission as part of concealing the offence from authorities.

It allowed the cancellation of his credential, and headed off any further investigation within the church, which would have followed if the allegation was denied.

“That allowed them to stop doing anything further and they didn’t do anything further,” Mr Harrison said.

Houston controlled the narrative in what he told the executive, omitting Mr Sengstock was considering reporting it to authorities, and had been paid money by his father, Mr Harrison said.

Houston also told the executive legal advice had been obtained that they did not have to report it to police.

He later acknowledged during the trial it was an important piece of information for the national executive to know, given he was telling them Mr Sengstock did not want it reported.

“He was controlling what people were going to tell and what people were going to do,” Mr Harrison said.

Houston also reacted with shock when told of the abuse reports by others within the church, with two church figures who reported it to him telling the court they believed he was hearing about it for the first time when they both told him separately.

Mr Harrison said Houston “acted shocked” to further limit what others knew about the abuse and his knowledge of it.

Closing submissions continue and are due to extend through Friday, with Houston’s barrister Phillip Boulten SC still to present Houston’s defence.

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028


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